In business, a company’s reputation can often come down to the lowest common denominator, the actions of one specific individual, especially in small companies. Look at the image on this post—do your eyes gravitate to all the beautiful green apples, or does it focus on that one rotten apple, that spoils an otherwise perfect picture. It is often the same thing in business, where the bad actions of one, can overshadow the otherwise perfect actions of others. Allow me to explain with this case study.
At one company, they had a employee that had been with the company for many years. She was largely a rock star for most of those years. She had been the company’s best selling salesperson, she gave her customers terrific customer service, and they loved her for it. And, they kept coming back year after year, loyal to the company and that specific salesperson.
But about a year ago, something started to change. Her sales started to plummet. Instead of being the highest-ranked salesperson, she dropped to the lowest-ranked salesperson. And her service levels also started to drop off, where many customer calls were going unanswered and tasks were no longer getting done. When the company’s owners investigated further with this employee, she admitted that she had been having health problems. where she could not focus on her work or organize herself.
The Initial Attempt to Resolve
Given the employee’s long tenure of success with the company, the owners wanted to try and help her through these difficult times. They helped consult the employee on where to find medical assistance, which she took them up on. The doctors and therapists quickly diagnosed the condition as adult ADHD, prescribed medications and other treatments, and suggested things would be better and back to normal in a couple months. So, the owner’s of the business patiently waited for the employees’ health and performance to return back to historical levels.
The Damage Done in the Interim
The resulting damage from this employee’s poor work performance really started to pile up. Firstly, the company was losing revenues from the unconverted leads that were sent her way. Many of these leads vocalized their frustrations to the company, willing to give the business another chance with a different salesperson. But the vast majority did not, and decided to take their business elsewhere. And secondly, the operational mistakes really started to pile up, with customers having major problems with their orders. This caused the company to have to offer refunds as a mea culpa, and really started to tarnish the company’s brand and reputation, as negative customer reviews started to flood into the website. And, that didn’t even talk about the fellow employees that were witnessing this poor behavior, and wondering what was going on, and how the owners were going to resolve it.
The Second Attempt to Resolve
After many months of patience (and continued lost sales and service breaks), the employee’s performance never improved back to historical levels. The employee even suggested that the owners create some financial disincentives for undesired performance, which they did without any success or change in behavior. The owners really had no choice, but to cut ties with the former “golden girl”, as the parties came up with a mutually acceptable separation. Which to the owners, was like saying goodbye to a loved family member, you were never going to see again.
The Key Takeaway Here
Cutting ties with employees you like personally and professionally, is very hard to do. The owners kept hoping that old “rock star” would walk back into the room, and that never happened despite a year of trying. But the damage done to the company’s brand in the meantime was immense. The company got a lot of egg in its face, had to make lots of apologies and refunds, and turned away dozens of prospective customers that would never be coming back to the company. And it doesn’t matter if those customers had originally started with a different salesperson that would have served them brilliantly. At this point, that one “bad apple” had spoiled the entire “bushel” from a brand perspective in how they perceived the entire company. Which is unfortunate, as the company really does deliver incredible customer service, other than this isolated situation.
So, during times like this, sometimes you have no choice but to rip off the Band-Aid, regardless of how painful it may be. If you can’t quickly resolve the situation with your employee, you need to make changes quickly that will best serve your customers. If you wait too long, you may never get those loyal customers and lost leads back. Which at that point, that outcome would be a self-inflicted wound by the owners for not acting fast enough in correcting a known material issue inside the company. Don’t let that be you.
George Deeb is a Partner at Red Rocket Ventures and author of 101 Startup Lessons-An Entrepreneur’s Handbook. For future posts from George, please follow him here or on Twitter at @georgedeeb or @redrocketvc.